The Trust Paradox: how being a Beacon of Trust can transform your project’s culture and performance

Creative Leaders view projects not so much as a series of tasks to perform (in a static project system), but more as a series of human interactions to navigate the dynamics of a typically “emergent” project system.  With this perspective, the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery process and the final product become more a function of the quality of the human fabric of the project than the application of formal methodologies and processes.

Why is this relevant?

Its core relevance lies in the paradox that we typically commit by far the lion’s portion of our collective focus on the formal methodologies (with limited potential return on investment) and virtually leave the cultivation of the human fabric to chance or, at best, as an after-thought or pay lip service to it (overlooking potentially infinite return on investment given this area need not cost much or take that much time but can deliver outstanding outcomes).

The collaborative structure is a common and effective method of major project delivery, marrying the strengths and reputations of multiple organisations to produce a well-rounded and highly capable team. The down side, however, is that the sprint from tender to mobilisation often does not allow time for groups to integrate properly or for basic systems and processes to be defined, leading groups to isolate themselves on a day to day basis. This ‘silo’ mentality is a minefield for issues around communication, teamwork and best practise, underlined by an inherent lack of trust.

It can be difficult to approach a challenge that is neither tangible nor quantifiable, but ignoring trust issues can be rapidly detrimental to project culture and, ultimately, its overall success. In addition, the solution is incredibly simple and can be implemented by anyone.

1. Have faith in trust as a solution – lead the way into the trust vortex

Unlike traditional corporate or operational environments where trust can be allowed to develop over a longer period of time, given their limited lifespan, projects require the development of trust to be artificially accelerated – like entering a trust vortex – where we have to take the initiative and grab trust by the horns and make it happen.  Now.  This requires commitment, courage and leadership.

  • Commitment – because there will always be other, easier things to focus on (projects are “busy” places)
  • Courage – because taking the risk of trust can feel vulnerable (“am I the only loony here,” “what will they do with the information I am sharing?” “Is it OK for me to ask for help or admit to not knowing X or Y?”)
  • Leadership – “I am going to take a punt on my conviction that this stuff matters and others will follow if they can be inspired by someone daring to go first…so here goes”

The vast majority of people are worthy of trust and have knowledge or information that could help you.  Scan the project for opportunities to enhance the human fabric, raise the quality and quantity of energy available for productive effort, and take the lead by reaching out to someone and instilling your faith in them, you could be mutually empowered.  “Your success is my success – how can I help you to be effective and successful on this project?”

“If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even though I may not have it at the beginning.” – Gandhi

2. Start with yourself – allow not knowing everything to be OK

Be honest. If you can trust yourself, your decisions and your own beliefs, it will shine through for others to see. If you are open and approachable, you may attract someone on a similar mission.

“A man who doesn’t trust himself can never really trust anyone else.” – Cardinal De Retz

Start by not only allowing yourself and others not to know everything – but actively encourage “not knowing”.  “Hey – I don’t know XXX?  That’s great – let’s find out…”   Harness the collective intelligence of the team rather than assume and expect everyone to know everything they technically should.

How do people leave the space when they have interacted with you?  Bored, flat, confused, angry, and indifferent?  Or energised, confident, focused, clear and pumped?  The only difference is the way you interacted with them!  Be intentional in how people leave your space.  Multiply that effect by the 100 or so conversations you can have in a given day and multiply that by the several hundred people on your project means a brighter, tighter, more energised focused human fabric committed to excellence and to the success of all involved.

3.  Reach out

Extending trust to others is an initiative from which only great things can transpire. At the very least, it is a mutually beneficial exchange, and at best it can create a chain of positivity, reaffirmation and confidence that can permeate the entire project.

“Increase the level of trust in any group, company or society and only good things happen.” – Thomas Friedman

So take a chance, start a conversation, break down the divides, pay confidence forward and acknowledge yourself for single-handedly making a difference – one conversation at a time.